Fraserburgh remembers those lost in 1953

Coxswain Victor Sutherland and Frances Hepburn at the memorial.
Coxswain Victor Sutherland and Frances Hepburn at the memorial.

Fraserburgh Lifeboat volunteers and members of the public gathered on Saturday to pay tribute to the lives lost by the RNLI at sea, 60 years on from the 1953 disaster in which six crew members died.

On February 9, 1953, the Fraserburgh Lifeboat ‘John and Charles Kennedy’ had been assisting boats into the harbour when it had capsized, killing all but one volunteer on-board the boat.

Those lost were coxswain Andrew Noble Ritchie, motor mechanic George Duthie, assistant mechanic James Noble and crewmen John Crawford, Charles Tait Snr., and John Buchan.

“We lost crew in 1919, six crew in 1953 and then five crew in 1970 and therefore we are also remembering everyone who has died in the course of duty with the RNLI at Fraserburgh,” current coxswain of the Fraserburgh Lifeboat, Victor Sutherland, said.

“It is very sad to think that the ‘Duchess of Kent’ lifeboat, which was brought in to replace the ‘John and Charles Kennedy’ following the 1953 disaster was itself involved in the 1970 tragedy.

“But today’s lifeboats are so well built and there is so much training to protect the volunteers when they save lives at sea that we all feel able to cope with anything that the sea and weather throws at us,” he added.

For each crew member that died in the 1953 tragedy, a wreath was placed at the memorial statue at Fraserburgh Lifeboat Station.

Widow of John Buchan, one of the volunteers who died, Frances Hepburn, also placed a wreath at the memorial before travelling out to Fraserburgh’s bay on the current lifeboat with her two sons to place a wreath at sea for the men lost.

An eye-witness to the tragedy of 1953, William Sutherland, 81, said that he would never forget the day. On the day, he had been in Fraserburgh for an appointment regarding his national service.

“It’ll never leave my mind,” he said.

“I was there just by chance. Little did I think I was going to see history.

“It affected the whole town. When it came to the funeral, the streets were crowded,” he added.

The funeral service, which was held on February 12, 1953, saw thousands of mourners gathered outside the Old Parish Church, a procession following the men from the Church to the cemetery.

Speaking after the memorial service, Councillor Hamish Partridge said: “It was a wonderful service dedicated to the six crew members that lost their lives saving others in 1953.

“Speaking to crew members both past and present really drives home the dedication RNLI staff have for their job. I would like to commend the staff and crew of Fraserburgh RNLI station for organising the commemoration service as it is very important to keep the memories of the brave crew in our minds and show our appreciation to the dangerous job they have.”

Councillor Partridge was in attendance with Fraserburgh and district councillor Charles Buchan.

Reverend Peter Park led the service for the ceremony on Saturday.